Bill English: computer mouse co-creator dies at 91

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Legend
Bill English built his first prototype mouse in the early 1960s


Computer mouse co-creator William English has died at the age of 91.

The engineer and inventor was born in 1929 in Kentucky and studied electrical engineering at university before joining the US Navy.

He built the first mouse in 1963, using an idea put forward by his colleague Doug Engelbart while the couple were working on early computing.

It won’t become commonplace until two decades later, when home personal computers become popular.

Mr. English’s death has been confirmed to US media by his wife.

A brown box

Bill English became the first person to use a mouse when he built the prototype as part of Mr. Engelbart’s research project at the Stanford Research Institute.

The idea was from Mr. Engelbart, which he described as “short notes” – but the creation was due to Bill English.

Its first version was a block of wood with a single button – and below it, two wheels rolling at 90-degree angles that would register vertical and lateral movements.

“We were working on text editing – the goal was a device capable of selecting characters and words,” Mr. English told the Computer History Museum in 1999.

In one experiment, the pair asked users to try out the mouse with other pointing devices such as a light pen or joystick – and found that the mouse was clearly the favorite. They wrote an article, which was largely ignored for years.

In their 1968 demonstration, the mouse was first shown publicly – with video conferencing, word processing, and a form of linking similar to what we use on the Internet today.

“As it moves up, down, or to the sides, so does the tracking point,” Doug Engelbart explained to the audience, as Bill English led the technical side of the conference – including the video that won over viewers.

The historic nature of the showcase led it to be called “the mother of all demos” by later writers.

Asked decades later if this was the founding moment of modern computing, Mr. English replied, “I wouldn’t dispute that. “

Cat and mouse

Some stories attribute it to its size and the cable’s similarity to a tail – others to the fact that the slider was, at the time, called a “cat” and seemed to chase the movements of the new device.

But neither Mr. English nor Mr. Engelbart could remember who had decided that the device should be called a “mouse” – nor exactly why.

“In the first report, we had to call it something. A brown box with buttons “didn’t work,” Mr. English said.

“It had to be a short name. It’s a very obvious short name. ”

Mr. English has also been widely credited with creating the desktop graphical user interface system used by almost all modern computers.

He left the Stanford Research Institute in 1971 to join the famous Xerox Park research center.

There he replaced the wheels in his first mouse design with a rollerball – the design that became familiar to most end users over the following decades. A similar design had already been tested by the German company Telefunken.

Mr. English died of respiratory failure on July 26 in California, his wife Roberta said. Mr. Engelbart died in 2013 at the age of 88.

Neither man was enriched by their invention, patented but owned by their employer – and intellectual property rights expired in 1987, before the mouse became one of the most common technological devices on the planet.

Speaking to the BBC after Mr. Engelbart’s death, Mr. English said: “The only money Doug ever got was a $ 50,000 license from Xerox when Xerox Parc started using the mouse. ”

The device was also adopted by Apple for its first personal computer, the Lisa.

But “Apple never paid any money with it, and it took off from there,” he said.

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